Size Matters. #sorrynotsorry

One of the things that consistently shocks designers and customers alike is how much a project price can change based on it’s finished size. I am going to show you why that is. Read on and you will realize why #sizematters and you will be a #designhero.

How  Size Affects Cost

Know that deviating from an increment of 8.5 x 11 is important when designing,  especially for a client on a budget. Here’s an example:  If you want to design a square brochure that is eight  pages and saddle stitched, that’s two, 4-page signatures or  one 8-page signature. If you make your finished size 9 x 9 inches and the brochure is printing on an offset sheet, then your printer would order a sheet size that is 25 x 38 or 23 x 35 depending on availability. (Whether or not you add a bleed doesn’t matter because the printer will need crop marks for bindery. But there are other instances where a bleed can make a big difference in cost. We will get to that in a little bit.) The printer needs approximately 1/2 inch of gripper on the long edge of the sheet. Paper sizes already take this into consideration. The diagram that follows shows how much waste is contained in a design that is 9 x 9 inches square. The difference in paper cost might nix the project for a cost conscious client, whereas a design change can help the project move forward. For a more image conscious client, the cost difference may not be as important as the visual impact that comes with the larger size. Remember that reducing the  number of printed sheets not only lowers the paper cost but also reduces the amount of press time!

One Booklet, 3 Sizes:

Here is an 8 page brochure. I’ve laid it out on a parent sheet so you can see what happens when you deviate from 8.5 x 11. Take a look at the amount of waste ($) that is generated. I am not saying it is bad to create a 9″ x 9″ brochure as long as you and your client know it is going to cost more.  Another consideration is the waste apart from the cost. A client that prides themselves on their environmental responsibility will not appear responsible with a 9″ x 9″ brochure.

8 x 8
Here’s the first example, an 8″ x 8″ page size. Because both dimensions are smaller than 8.5″ x 11″ the whole brochure is able to fit on one press sheet. 25,000 8-page booklets with a page size of 8 x 8 requires the purchase of 25,000 sheets of 23 x 35 paper. If we pretend the paper is $1.00 per sheet, the paper cost is $25,000.00.  The darker gray area on the press sheet is scrap that will be recycled. Knowing how much paper is wasted, you the designer could add on additional items in the “waste” area of the press sheet such as coupons or statement stuffers or whatever.


9 x 9
Below is the second example, same booklet sized to 9″ x 9″. This is a great standout size, it will be wider than a stack of direct mail and can really make the message stand out. But look at the cost: 25,000 8-page booklets with a page size of 9 x 9 requires the purchase of 50,000 sheets of 23 x 35 paper. If we pretend the paper  is $1.00 per sheet, the paper cost is $50,000.00, double the paper cost of the 8″ x 8″ size. This size also needs to be printed on two press forms so that is double the plates, double the make ready and double the press time. 


8.5 x 11
The third example is the same booklet with a page size of 8.5″ x 11″. 25,000 8-page booklets with a page size of 8.5 x 11 requires the  purchase of 25,000 sheets of 23 x 35 paper. If we pretend the  paper is $1.00 per sheet, the paper cost is $25,000.00, Although  the price is the same as the 8 x 8 sized booklet, the waste is  dramatically reduced.

How grain affects cost

Are you going with or against the grain? The other way that size affects cost is in combination with grain direction. For example, let’s say you design a brochure that is 4.25 x 11 when folded, 8.5 x 11 flat. It has solid black ink on both sides and you want to print on coated paper. (See design decisions that make headaches here) The brochure has to be cut with the grain parallel to the fold, because of the score going through solid ink. So the brochure must print with the grain following the 11 in. dimension parallel to the fold. As shown below, that nets you only 6 out of a sheet instead of the eight out you could get if the design allowed for it to run with the grain against the fold. Few papers are available grain short (more on that below). I have had instances where customers wanted to redo their brochure as in this example because “the last printer screwed it up real bad”. Having a sample of that last printing in hand I can see that what should have run with the grain was not. Why? Maybe the client was pressuring the printer on cost. Maybe the printer explained to the buyer that there was going to be some cracking (buyer who no longer works for client so that story is lost). You can work with a printer that is going to save you money or someone that is going to guard your branding with ferocity. It’s a choice.

If this print run was for 25,000 brochures and the paper cost $1.00 per sheet,
the paper cost would be $4,166.00. A page size of 8.5 x 11 that
must run grain long produces a considerable amount of waste.

If this print run was for 25,000 brochures and the paper cost $1.00 per sheet,
the paper cost would be $3,125.00. A page size of 8.5 x 11 produces very little waste.
It is clear how the standard parent size of 23 x 35 is optimal for the 8.5 x 11 page.

Solid ink cracking on a fold.

Paper Sizes

Most American print revolves around a paper sheet size  of 8.5 by 11 inches, called letter size. (Most of the rest of the  world revolves around the A4 size of 21 x 29.7 centimeters). When you are designing a printed piece size is important because printing companies buy paper in  standard sizes. The most economical use of that sheet, large  or small, is going to be in a multiple of 8.5 x 11. Minimizing  paper waste is important for containing costs. The large  sheets of paper that printers buy are called parent sheets, and these come in standard sizes based on the weight of the paper. What that means in plain english is that it is more wasteful ie: more expensive, to deviate from the 8.5 x 11 format or add a bleed to some papers, such as writing, versus others such as text. (Exceptions are custom sizes, which can be ordered  from a paper mill depending on the amount of lead time you have.)

The information that follows is organized by paper grade. You can learn about paper grades here. The  dimensions given in the chart below are standardized in multiple ways. The first number refers to the horizontal measurement (the 8.5 in 8.5 x 11”). The second dimension is the vertical measurement and the grain direction (the 11 in 8.5 x 11”). Sometimes grain direction is  indicated by making that dimension bold as in 23 x 35 or by  underlining it as in 23 x 35. Sometimes paper is sold grain  short and that is indicated by the dimension 35 x 23 or 35 x 23  or 35 x 23 or 23 x 35 or 23 x 35.

In the chart of standard sizes by paper grade, note that the less expensive grades (uncoated, for example) are sold in sizes that do not allow for a bleed. The economy of a 23 x 35 sheet versus a 25 x 38 sheet over a long print run is significant.

The primary size is the size(s) that will be carried by most manufacturers. The primary size is always available in the basic colors such as white, cream, and ivory. If designer colors are manufactured, then they would also be available in the primary size. The secondary size is for the most common colors such as white, ivory, and perhaps other popular colors in that line. The tertiary sizes would apply only to the most common colors (white and ivory) in the most common  grades and weights.

Below are all the common paper grades with their corresponding sizes of parent sheets available to printers.

Other costs such as plates, ink, and set-up charges affect the price, but the bottom line is that a size decision made at the design stage will make a significant difference in your printing cost. Have you experienced a size problem in the design stage? I would love to hear about it, please comment below to share your experience with other readers.

Do you have a question about this topic or would you like me to further explain something?  Do you have a request for a topic for me to cover or elaborate on? I’d love to know, comment or email me at marina @

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